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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

May 19, 2000

Air Date: May 19, 2000

SEGMENTS

The Case for Burning

The disaster of the prescribed burn in New Mexico throws doubt on this forest management technique. Host Steve Curwood speaks with Keith Easthouse of Forest Magazine, who says prescribed burns are still the best defense against forest fires. (05:25)

The Case Against Burning / David Riggs

Commentator David Riggs, Director of Land and Natural Resource Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, believes our approach to caring for the nation’s forests is misguided. (02:25)

John McCain & Climate Change / Diane Toomey

Senator John McCain held a hearing in the Senate this week on global warming, and environmentalists are singing his praises. Living On Earth’s Diane Toomey explores whether or not it’s a bit premature to put the environmentalist label on the senator. (03:34)

Health Update / Anna Solomon-Greenbaum

Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports on a new study that looks at the potential downside of a vaccine that’s given to newborns. (00:59)

Owens Valley Restoration: Part 1 / Robin White

The once mighty Owens River in central California will begin to flow again for the first time in nearly 100 years. Los Angeles is now under court order to restore some of the waterways it has drained dry. Robin White reports. (08:10)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about – sneezing, in honor of the spring allergy season. (01:25)

Lead and Juvenile Delinquents / Diane Toomey

For the past 30 years, Doctor Herbert Needleman has been researching the effects of lead poisoning in children. Living On Earth’s Diane Toomey spoke with Dr. Needleman about his latest study, in which he looked at the lead levels in the bones of juvenile delinquents and compared the results to levels found in other children. (05:45)

Technology Update / Cynthia Graber

Cynthia Graber reports on Robowell, a new robotic water testing device that monitors the quality of groundwater in drinking wells. ()

Native Struggles

Winona LaDuke, author of “All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life,” talks with host Steve Curwood about the issues facing Native Americans in today’s society. (06:40)

Eskimos in Russia / Jody Seitz

Alaskan Eskimos are helping the native people in Siberia relearn how to live off the land. Siberian Yupik used to subsist on marine mammal hunting, but during the Soviet era their hunting was restricted, and know-how and traditions were lost. Jody Seitz reports. (05:00)

Natural Jazz / Karen Kelly

Musician David Rothenberg thinks that one way to keep in touch with the natural world is to listen to nature’s sounds. And what he really likes is jamming with these sounds. Karen Kelly of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium brings us this portrait. (05:05)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Diane Toomey, Robin White, Jody Seitz, Karen Kelly
UPDATES: Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber
GUESTS: Keith Easthouse, Winona LaDuke, Herbert Needleman
COMMENTATOR: David Riggs

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
To make Los Angeles bloom, developers bought up land and water rights in many rural towns. Some old-timers still remember the day city agents came to the Owens Valley.

MILOVICH: Mother told them that day, she says, "I don't want to sell. I was raised here, I lived next door, and I've got five kids, and my husband and I built this house together." Mom was cleaning sweet corn at the time, had a big butcher knife in her hands. And she looked at him and she said, "If you don't get off this lot I'm going to cut your damned throat."

CURWOOD: Most folks sold out, though, and then watched their valley go dry as the water was siphoned to the city. But now, L.A. must give Owens Valley its water back, and we'll look at the restoration plan. That story and more, this week on Living on Earth, right after this news.

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(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

The Case for Burning

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
A prescribed burn in New Mexico’s Bandelier National Monument erupted into what it was designed to prevent – an out of control wildfire. Eighty square miles of forest were scorched, more than 400 homes destroyed and the Los Alamos National Laboratory Investigators says lack of oversight and insufficient personnel are key reasons why the fire got out of control.

But Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt lays some of the blame on government policy which has turned forests into tinderboxes.

BABBITT: They are too thick, too cluttered with young growth pines, they are reflecting the legacy of a long history of fire supression in forests which co-evolved with fire.

CURWOOD: Secretary Babbitt has imposed a thirty day ban on prescribed burns. Keith Easthouse is following the story for Forest Magazine. Keith, do conditions warrant a moratorium

EASTHOUSE: It was a political and I, you know, frankly, think that it’s understandable. But I think it should be lifted as soon as it’s clear how they’re going to be conducting burning in the future and as soon as the public can have some strong assurances that another disaster like Cerro Grande’s not going to happen again.

CURWOOD: If the secretary wanted to stop burning, could he?

EASTHOUSE: I guess he could, but you know, if we don’t burn these forests mother nature will. As the Interior Secretary said, these forests co-evolved with fire and after about a century of fire suppression, Smokey Bear has created a real mess, you know, that we need to deal with. These forests are explosive, they’re tinder dry, they intrude right into a lot of cities, such as Santa Fe – I don’t think we have any choice.

CURWOOD: The secretary says thin first, then burn. That should work?

EASTHOUSE: It is what needs to be done, but there’s a problem with it and the problem is everything that becomes a sapling grows into a tree in the absence of fire. And so you’ve got trees packed like sardines, trees competing for moisture and nutrients, and you’ve got stunted trees. One reason that land management agencies haven’t made a whole lot of progress in terms of thinning is that there’s no market for the trees.

CURWOOD: I’m looking at an article from Forest Magazine last fall, written by you, Keith Easthouse…

EASTHOUSE: Yes.

CURWOOD: And in this article you warn that the Los Alamos National Lab is vulnerable to a wildfire from a couple of different directions. Boy, what’s happened must feel pretty eerie to you, I’d imagine.

EASTHOUSE: Yeah, it’s kind of bizarre. I was out walking in the woods that are now, you know, charred, with a guy from the Santa Fe National Forest, Bill Armstrong, almost a year to the day that the Cerro Grande fire got out of control. It’s strange, but on another level I’m not at all surprised. Bill is one of the few people at the Santa Fe National Forest who has recognized the danger and has been trying for several years now to get adequate funding to thin and burn the area that blew up in the Cerro Grande blaze. And unfortunately Bill just never got the support he needed.

CURWOOD: So I’m wondering who the real culprits are here. The folks who failed to fund the prescribed burns that were being called for by the foresters who had seen this problem and gave you the material for your article? The people who did the prescribed burn in an ineffective way? Who’s to blame? Is there anyone to blame?

EASTHOUSE: Obviously the park service and the people who actually carried out the controlled burn made mistakes and they were mistakes with disastrous consequences. But again the Santa Fe National Forest, had it had an aggressive thinning and burning program going on for 10, 15, 20 years, this blaze may not have burned into Los Alamos. Let me also add that Los Alamos Lab and the Department of Energy need to shoulder some blame here as well. The laboratory is about ten years behind on its environmental cleanup program. And as a result, there’s a real possibility since apparently about 25% of the lab burned, that a witch’s brew of radioactive and chemical contaminants escaped into the atmosphere.

CURWOOD: OK, the fire is eventually over. Is the risk going to be gone from the Los Alamos area?

EASTHOUSE: No, I’m afraid the northern New Mexico community, or region, is going to be taking a one-two punch here. The first punch of course was the fire itself. The second punch is flooding. The fire burned so hot, 20,000 degrees I’ve heard, that the soil actually was vitrified and turned to glass in places. Even where that didn’t happen, there’s a thick, thick layer of ash that’s water repellant. And when the monsoons hit New Mexico, and they will, they usually come around the Fourth of July, there could be enormous flash flooding washing down out of the mountains and crossing Los Alamos National Laboratory. Now that’s significant because for almost 60 years, beginning with the Manhattan Project, the Laboratory has used the canyons on its property as dumping grounds. Barring some kind of last minute, eleventh hour effort at constructing barriers, that stuff is going to get dislodged and transported directly into the Rio Grande.

CURWOOD: Keith Easthouse is associate editor at Forest Magazine. Thanks for talking with us today.

EASTHOUSE: OK, thank you.

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The Case Against Burning

RIGGS: The massive wildfire in Los Alamos is a predictable result of our national land management policy, which makes fire suppression and prescribed burns a priority.

CURWOOD: Commentator David Riggs of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

RIGGS: Smoky the Bear's caution, "Only you can prevent forest fires," symbolizes decades of fire suppression by the federal government. Although many of us have fond memories of the fire-conscious bear, we can expect to see more fire disasters when federal land management agencies embrace and suppress and prescribe policy.
Fire suppression, which puts out fires as soon as they are discovered, results in a build-up of dry, highly-flammable excess wood in the nation's forests. This leaves more wood in the forest to burn tomorrow, and the fire hazard continues to grow. Excess timber can be burned up in small, prescribed fires, or it can be removed mechanically. Our federal land management policy has placed a priority on prescribed burns, which should only occur when weather and moisture conditions are just right. The frequency of prescribed burns is also important to keep the forest clean of its excess fuels.
But prescribed burning has not worked well in practice. The Los Alamos fire started as a small, prescribed burn that quickly went out of control. Other prescribed burns have had similar outcomes. Unless it is removed mechanically, most of the surplus wood has to burn eventually. Consequently, an abundance of dead and dying trees due to the long-time absence of fire results in fire intensities that cause enormous damage to soils, watersheds, fisheries, and other ecosystem components. Plus, as the Los Alamos fire amply demonstrates, people and their property are at tremendous risk when they are adjacent to these national tinder boxes. We need a policy that calls for cutting excess timber and carrying it out of the forest. The federal government's suppress and prescribe policy has created massive fire hazards, and needlessly puts lives, property, and the environment at risk. If we continue to put dangerous and ineffective policy above common sense, we will continue to see more fire disasters like Los Alamos.

CURWOOD: David Riggs is the director of land and natural resource policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.

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(Music up and under)

John McCain & Climate Change

CURWOOD: John McCain may not be running for president right now, but he's staying in the public eye. The Arizona Senator is capitalizing on the maverick image that captured the attention of many voters. Most Senators have said little about global warming in the past few years, except to oppose the Kyoto accord. But John McCain is stepping out to say now is the time to take a closer look at the possible impacts of climate change. Living on Earth's Diane Toomey reports.

TOOMEY: As he campaigned for president, John McCain says he was asked time and again about his plan to address global warming. His response was simple, if less than satisfactory.

McCAIN: I don't have a plan. I'm sorry to say that I don't have a plan.

TOOMEY: So Senator McCain said he'd do his homework on climate change science, and a few days ago he made good on that promise in a very public way. In a hastily-called Senate hearing on the issue, John McCain spoke to a standing room-only crowd. He admitted he's concerned about mounting evidence that indicates, in his words, "something is happening."

McCAIN: I do not pretend to have the expertise and knowledge on this very important and very controversial issue. But I do intend to become informed.

TOOMEY: And when you're the head of the Senate's Commerce, Science, and Technology Committee, you can assemble the best instructors for your tutorial. McCain brought together four prominent climate researchers: three who believe global warming is a serious threat, and another who's a self-described agnostic on the subject. The scientists answered questions from both Senator McCain and two other members of the committee. In the past, Senator McCain has earned low marks from environmental groups. But less than half an hour into the hearing, the Senator seemed to have moved into their camp.

McCAIN: It's almost sort of like connecting the dots here. We see example after example, ranging from ice breaking off the Antarctic to the death of coral reefs to the inexorable increase in water levels. Does that make any sense, or is it just, are we being a little bit hysterical?

TOOMEY: No, said Neil Lane, President Clinton's point person on global warming. Mr. Lane added, the potential harm from climate change warrants real concern. After the hearing, advocates on both sides of the issue played up or played down its importance.

PASSACANTANDO: Clearly, Senator John McCain has forever changed the landscape on how American politicians are going to look at global warming

TOOMEY: John Passacantando is with the environmental group Ozone Action.

PASSACANTANDO: He sounded today like he thought there was a problem. You know, he is a maverick, right? So he gets out ahead of his colleagues, particularly ahead of a lot of his Republican colleagues. But they can't stay too far behind him. The rest of the Senate is going to have to follow along.

TOOMEY: Myron Ebel with the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute had a different take.

EBEL: Senator McCain is not taken terribly seriously in the Republican caucus in the Senate. He is not a heavyweight, and I don't think any opinions that the happens to be spouting today will carry much weight over the long term.

TOOMEY: Despite this hearing, Mr. Ebel says the Senate remains overwhelmingly opposed to the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty which seeks to reduce the pollution that causes global warming. While he discounts the significance of this hearing, Mr. Ebel is disappointed with Senator McCain's apparent shift.

EBEL: Clearly he seems to be on the sort of global warming hysteria bandwagon.

TOOMEY: Regardless of how much influence John McCain holds over the Senate, he does have the ear of the American people. And with that in mind, he says he intends to hold more hearings on climate change. For Living on Earth, I'm Diane Toomey.

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CURWOOD: It's payback time in California. L.A. moves to restore the water it once diverted from the Owens Valley. That story is just ahead right here on Living on Earth.
First, this environmental health update with Anna Solomon-Greenbaum.

(Music up and under)

Health Update

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: All newborns in the U.S. receive a hepatitis-B vaccine, usually within the first few days of life. And up until recently, all those vaccines contained thimerosal, a preservative derived from mercury. A study recently published in the Journal of Pediatrics shows that after getting this shot, premature infants had more than three times the level of mercury in their system compared to normal weight babies. Since mercury is a neurotoxin, the researchers worried about its effects on preemies, who are at a greater risk for neurological disorders. And an advance release of the study started controversy. Thimerosal was used in many U.S. hospitals from 1986 until 1999, when manufacturers decided to remove it from their hepatitis-B vaccines, at least for newborns. Although they're being phased out here, sales of hepatitis-B vaccines with the mercury-derived preservative are expected to continue overseas. And that's this week's Living on Earth health update. I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum.

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CURWOOD: You're listening to Living on Earth.

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Owens Valley Restoration: Part 1

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

MAN: Gentlemen, today you can walk out that door, turn right, hop a streetcar, and within 25 minutes end up smack in the Pacific Ocean. Now you can swim in it and you can fish in it, but you can't drink it. And you can't irrigate an orange grove with it.

CURWOOD: The water wars of Los Angeles have inspired storytellers for years. From Chinatown to Cadillac Desert, the books and films keep coming. It's not a noble tale. Early in the twentieth century, the growing city of Los Angeles hoodwinked poor Owens Valley farmers into selling their land. What the city really wanted was the water. When they got it, they shipped it across a desert to build their metropolis. Meanwhile, the farmers watched their land turn to sand and sagebrush. But the story has come full-circle. Courts are now forcing L.A. to restore water to communities in Owens Valley that have been dry for almost a century. Robin White has our story.

(Winds)

WHITE: If you take a wide-angle shot, the Owens Valley looks a magnificent place. Running from southeast of Yosemite to just west of Death Valley, it's 100 miles long by 5 miles wide and surrounded by mountains towering up to 14,000 feet.

(Winds)

WHITE: If you zoom in, the valley is not in such good shape.

HILL: Right now, what we're looking at is a highly-fragmented ecosystem.

WHITE: On a windy day out in the sagebrush, river scientist Mark Hill stands in front of a sandy ditch full of broken logs. A tree cemetery that used to be a pond. Part of a network of waterways that meandered through the valley before Los Angeles drained it dry.

HILL: There are bits and pieces which are gone, like this particular spring. And there are other pieces which are isolated into off-channel ponds and lakes, and they have no connection now with the greater ecosystem. They're simply isolated.

WHITE: Mark Hill's been hired by Los Angeles to connect up these fragments and restore water to 65 miles of the Lower Owens River. The plan is to bring the flow up slowly to allow riparian vegetation to recover and anchor the banks of the river. Once the large cottonwoods and willows are re-established, Los Angeles will vary the flows to imitate natural cycles. The city will still export the bulk of Owens Valley water, but what will stay in the river has enormous potential.

HILL: It's going to become a wildlife Mecca. It's the cornerstone of this whole desert plateau ecosystem. Anyone who canoes down this will be like canoeing through the Amazon River.

WHITE: And Mark Hill says even though he's worked on more famous rivers, from the Nile to the Mekong, bringing back the Owens will be the pinnacle of his career. For a river scientist his job here is unusual. He's spent a lot of time driving around, listening to people's concerns. This is a new tactic for Los Angeles. In the past, they've typically run over public opinion in the Owens Valley. In the 1920s and the 1970s, valley residents resorted to bombing the aqueduct to try to get their voices heard. Even today, the community is bitterly divided about L.A.'s control of the area.

HILL: There's this idea that there's eco-psychology, that a fragmented ecosystem results in a fragmented social system. And I think it's what we see here. So it's our hope that when you put the fragments of this ecosystem back together, we also de-fragment the society here a little bit, too.

(Winds fade to band music up and under: "California Dreamin'")

WHITE: It's Thursday night in Bishop, the largest town in the Owens Valley. Tourists and locals sit in deck chairs in the park and the town band tears it up with "California Dreamin'."

(Band music continues)

WHITE: Some say Bishop is frozen in time, that it's never recovered from Los Angeles' aggressive land purchases. At 78, Ray Milovich remembers the time in the 1920s when a Los Angeles agent tried to buy his parents' ranch to get their water rights.

MILOVICH: Mother told them that day, she says, "I don't want to sell. I was raised here, I lived next door, and I've got five kids, and my husband and I built this house together. And I'm going to stay here." And he said, "Well, this door here's going to sell, and this one's going to sell," and went down the list of names. "They're all going to sell. You're going to be here all by yourself." Mom was cleaning sweet corn at the time, had a big butcher knife in her hands. And she looked at him and she said, Mr. Hand, I think was his name, she says, "I told you no before. I'm telling you no again." And she said, "If you don't get off this lot I'm going to cut your damned throat."

WHITE: With memories that strong even 70 years later, some are skeptical about anything Los Angeles tries to do here, even restoring the river.

MILOVICH: That is just a little something to keep your mouth shut, you know, to just keep people happy.

WHITE: You could say it's working. As newer residents move into the area, fewer people remember what Ray Milovich does. Many even think there are benefits to Los Angeles' presence. Carla Schiedlinger has lived here 13 years. She's an environmental activist who helped negotiate the agreement with Los Angeles that brought the Lower Owens River Project into being. Sitting by a pond in her garden, she points out that while the city owns almost all the land in the valley, it allows free public access.

(Running water)

SCHIEDLINGER: You go most anywhere else in the country that has this much open space and you encounter locked gates everywhere. Or you go someplace that has this much water, and it's developed. And we all know that this would be the San Fernando Valley or something equivalent to it if all of the water had stayed here.

WHITE: When Los Angeles exported water from the Owens Valley to build an empire in southern California, it also exported the potential for urban sprawl, crime, toxic industry, and the anomie of big city living.

(Music up and under: "I'm a packing my grip, and I'm living today. 'Cause I'm taking a trip California way. I'm gonna settle down and never move on, and make the San Fernando Valley my home...")

WHITE: While the San Fernando Valley got all the industry and all the people, the Owens Valley was left a rural backwater without a strong economic base. Now the Lower Owens River Project offers some hope.

(Traffic)

WHITE: It's Friday, and thousands of L.A. tourists are passing through the Owens Valley to vacations in the mountains. Right on Highway 395 in Bishop, Bruce Klein runs an agency giving economic assistance to low-income families. Klein believes the Lower Owens River Project will be able to capture some of the tourist dollars that now fly by on 395.

KLEIN: With that money will come so much other stuff. Sidewalks. Funding the hospital, which just struggles to exist from year to year. And obviously jobs.

WHITE: For example, young people who typically have to leave the valley to find work could be hired as guides in the recreation industry. Bruce Klein recently had a dream.

(Music up and under)

KLEIN: In my dream I was dressed up like, you know, like a cowboy. And I went and got my Japanese tourists, and welcomed them, and took them on down to my mule-drawn wagon, which I drove down to the river. The re-watered river. And the Japanese tourists get in a lovely nineteenth-century wooden boat, and are rowed down by other folks. And at one point they're even held up by desperados, and the excellent crewmen of the boats drive off the bandits.

(Music up and under)

WHITE: Bruce Klein is not alone in his dreams for the Lower Owens River Project. One resident is planning to lead archaeological tours to some of the prehistoric sites around the valley. Another is mapping out a route to provide mountain biking along the re-watered sections of the river. Bruce Klein says when the Lower Owens River Project comes online in 2002, it could give the area what it's lacked for a long time: a sense of place.

(Music up and under)

WHITE: For Living on Earth, I'm Robin White.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Next week, our series on Owens Valley continues. We'll visit the now-dry Owens Lake and look at plans to fill it back up with water.

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Surdna Foundation; and the Ford Foundation, striving to preserve our ecological values.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we return: A new study shows a strong link between childhood exposure to lead and juvenile delinquency. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

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SECOND HALF HOUR

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood

(Music up and under: Vivaldi's "Spring" from The Four Seasons)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Warm weather, longer days, flowers in bloom. People love spring, but they don't always love spring's pollen. All those flowering plants can sometimes touch off allergic reactions in humans. The typical symptoms are nasal congestion, itchy, drippy nose and eyes, and of course sneezing.

(Sneezing)

CURWOOD: Gesundheit. By the way, the sneeze is a most powerful reflex. When an offending particle irritates the lining of your nostrils, a sneeze explodes to blow away the intruder at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. The earliest sneeze recorded for posterity is also in the earliest surviving copywritten picture. It was filmed at Thomas Edison's laboratory in 1889. And the longest sneezing streak on record? Well, it was set in the early 1980s. A young British girl ah-chooed constantly for 978 days.

(Music up and under: "Ah-choo! Ah-choo! Ah-choo! Ah-choo! Ah-choo! Ah-choo! Ah-choo! ...")

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's the Living on ... the Living on ... the (sudden intake of breath) the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under: "Ah-choo! Ah-choo! Ah-choo! Ah-choo! Ah-choo! Ah-choo! Ah-choo! ...")

Lead and Juvenile Delinquents

CURWOOD: A new study suggests that millions more U.S. children than previously thought are suffering ill effects from exposure to lead. Researchers at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati looked at lead levels in close to 5,000 children over the span of six years. Up until now, a blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter was considered acceptable. Using that standard, one in 20 U.S. children between the ages of one and five is adversely affected by lead. But researchers in the new study found that short-term memory, as well as reading and math ability, were all affected at lead levels as low as 2.5 micrograms. If substantiated, that puts nearly half of young children at risk. This research was recently made public at the Conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics in Boston. Dr. Herbert Needleman of the University of Pittsburgh presented another study at the same conference. His research found apparent links between lead and juvenile court convictions. Living on Earth's science editor Diane Toomey speaks now with Dr. Needleman about these results.

TOOMEY: Dr. Needleman, you published a study a few years ago that found that children with relatively high levels of lead in their bones were twice as likely to be aggressive, engage in antisocial behavior. What's the difference between that previous study and this current work? How does this study push this area of research along?

NEEDLEMAN: In this study we identified young people who had been arrested and adjudicated by the juvenile court as delinquent. And compared their bone lead levels to a control group from similar high schools who had neither been arrested nor adjudicated as delinquent.

TOOMEY: So, what is the difference between the level of lead in the bones of juvenile delinquents, compared to other children?

NEEDLEMAN: In our study, the delinquents had considerably higher levels of lead in their bone. In the male group, the mean blood lead level was 11 parts per million in the delinquents, as opposed to three and a half in the control group. In the females the difference was even greater.

TOOMEY: Statistically speaking, those are very large differences, aren't they?

NEEDLEMAN: They're highly significant statistically.

TOOMEY: Well, why would a child's exposure to lead lead to criminal behavior?

NEEDLEMAN: Well, lead's a brain poison. And one of the places it seems to involve are the pre-frontal lobes of the brain, where impulsivity is regulated, making choices between one option and another. And the lead appears to affect the central nervous system function in those areas.

TOOMEY: So it kind of takes the brakes off of things, so to speak.

NEEDLEMAN: Yeah. We all have hostile impulses, but most of us are able to think it through and say, if I do this, I'm going to get punished. It seems that delinquents have a defect in that area.

TOOMEY: The simplistic way to look at this would be to say that lead poisoning causes crime, but the picture I'm sure is more complicated than that. For instance, I know in some parts of Africa, 90 percent of children suffer from toxic lead levels, but we don't hear a lot about juvenile delinquency in that part of the world. So, does lead cause crime?

NEEDLEMAN: I don't think lead is a single cause for crime. I think it raises the risk for criminal behavior. This is not a new discovery. Randolph Byers at the Boston Children's Hospital, over 60 years ago, was referred two children for violent behavior, and he recognized them as children who had recovered from lead poisoning. And mothers of lead-poisoned children have told me and other pediatricians that their child was once sweet-natured, easy to manage, and after recovering from lead poisoning wouldn't listen to directions, wouldn't sit still, and if frustrated will pick up whatever is at hand to hit somebody. So the clues have been out there that lead affects the nervous system, reduces controls, and increases the rate of antisocial behavior.

TOOMEY: So if high levels of lead don't necessarily cause crime, are we talking about a nature-nurture situation here? Some children maybe have toxic levels of lead in their system, but their environment is such that it doesn't lead to a life of criminal behavior.

NEEDLEMAN: I would say, rather than a nature-nurture problem, it's a multivariate problem. In order to have your ability to control yourself impaired, you probably need a few things. And in children who have a lot of lead, you probably don't need as much of the other risk factors to cross the line and to transcend the boundaries of what's considered legitimate behavior.

TOOMEY: Dr. Needleman, what are the public policy implications for these findings?

NEEDLEMAN: The brain has been neglected in large measure in the study of antisocial behavior. Lead is the best understood neurotoxicant. We know where lead is. We know what it does. I believe we have more information about lead than any other toxicant. And we know how to get rid of it. And in doing so, I think we would reduce the rate of criminal behavior.

TOOMEY: Dr. Needleman, what research do you have upcoming with regard to lead poisoning?

NEEDLEMAN: Mothers of children who recovered report that they don't pay attention, and we have shown, as have many other people, that lead does affect attentional function. It's distractability, impulsivity, which we talked about. But another question is, does it cause attention deficit? That is, does it bring children into the range of diagnosis of this strange disorder? And so, we're doing a case control study of 250 children who have the diagnosis of ADHD, and a suitable group of controls.

TOOMEY: Dr. Herbert Needleman is a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. Dr. Needleman, thanks for speaking with us today.

NEEDLEMAN: Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth's science editor Diane Toomey, speaking with the University of Pittsburgh researcher Dr. Herbert Needleman.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Wild places can look good, and can sound good, too. Jazz from nature is coming up on Living on Earth. First, this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.

Technology Update

(A phone rings. "Water monitor station...")

GRABER: That's not an annoying, computer-generated telemarketer. It's Robowell calling.

ROBOWELL: Current ground water temperature is 11.37 degrees Celsius...

GRABER: Robowell is a robotic water testing machine designed at the U.S. Geological Survey in Massachusetts. And at drinking wells located near landfills and contaminated sites, Robowell can replace costly and too often infrequent human testing. The array of pumps, sensors, and a computer lives in and above wells, regularly checking the groundwater. If contamination is detected, or existing pollution changes, Robowell will phone home. The early warning device can allow researchers to catch contamination before it spreads, and treat polluted water sooner. And that's this week's technology update. I'm Cynthia Graber.

ROBOWELL: Goodbye.

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Native Struggles

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Winona LaDuke was Ralph Nader's running mate in the 1996 election, and she'll likely be on the Green Party ticket again this year as its vice presidential pick. Winona LaDuke is an Ojibwe Indian who ardently defends Native American rights. In her new book, All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life, she contends that too many governments fail to consider the continuing presence of Native Americans as active citizens.

LaDUKE: Many people by and large are treated in America as things that are historical, in the past, or romanticized, or kind of are far away and so obscure and so few. Or, you know, just our basic tragic stories that kind of pass you in the news, without any either analysis or context of the issues. Without allowing people to be full human beings with dignity, with ideas, with dreams, that are just like other folks.

CURWOOD: Now, you're a member of the Anishinaabeg in northern Minnesota.

LaDUKE: Yeah. Anishinaabeg or Ojibwe, as we're also known.

CURWOOD: What does it mean to you to be from this family? To be an Indian person in the United States in the year 2000?

LaDUKE: Oh, that's quite a question. You go to the schools up here today and you don't even get a good story. My kid was in public school up here in the town of Bemidji. I had to laugh because my daughter, pretty smart girl, she got a D on her fifth grade North American Indians test.

CURWOOD: Oh really.

LaDUKE: (Laughs) For someone like me that's, like, embarrassing, right? You know, your kid's supposed to know all things about all Indians. I said, "My girl, let me see that test." The first question on the test is, "Which Indians were hunters and gatherers?" Now, you know, I've got to ask you, how is an Indian kid going to answer that question? Problem with this test, I go talk to the teacher. I said, "The problem with this test is, the first thing is 'were.' I mean, you know, that's saying someone lived a long time ago, and that's not present verbs, you know? The second thing is that, you know, up here in this area we trap and we hunt and we harvest wild rice and berries and maple syrup. So, you know, for us I'd say that means we're hunters and gatherers, right?" The correct answer was, "The Plains Indians were hunters and gatherers." Now, who the heck are the Plains Indians, Steve? You know what I'm saying? Who are the Plains Indians? (Curwood laughs) I've got a lot of Indian people come to my house, and we don't have people come over and I say the Plains Indians are coming to dinner now. I mean, you say that the Lakotas are coming to dinner, or maybe the Pine Ridgers are coming to dinner. Some Blackfeets are heading in, you know? You don't say the Plains Indians. I tell you that story because that's kind of indicative of the problem we face today, in kind of these serious omissions that are replicated. You know, in the schools even to this day. And the consequence is that, you know, these kids grow up and they go and become politicians and make public policy and they know nothing about Indian people.

CURWOOD: In your book you chronicle a number of different struggles. Environmental struggles involving a number of tribes. Is there one of these that stands out among all of them for you? If so, which one, and why?

LaDUKE: You know, a really good example is that they put a bunch of dams in, in northern Manitoba in the 70s. The 1970s. And those dams by and large feed power down to the United States. They put those dams in an area that was full of permafrost. You know what permafrost is?

CURWOOD: By its name you know it tries to stay cold, right?

LaDUKE: Yeah, it's cold all the time, right? It's cold all the time. And so, then what they find out is that the temperature of the water behind the dam wall is higher than the temperature of the soil. And so, you're constantly melting the soil away, in this area in northern Manitoba. And they call it a shoreline retreat.

CURWOOD: Hmm.

LaDUKE: And they were going at, like 80 feet a year. I was talking to these Crees that live up there, and they told me this story. And this image, I'm going to share with you, but I cannot get it out of my mind. They're hunting for moose, and they're going along the river in a big canoe. And they finally come upon a moose. That moose is stuck in the mud up to its shoulders. It is stuck in the mud.

CURWOOD: Oh!

LaDUKE: And that, you know, that is where we are playing God in these ecosystems. You know, these are the problems, is that we have public policy that is operating without common sense. It's operating with some kind of, you know, a hope, we're at some kind of a dream that somebody's going to fix it.

CURWOOD: What's the connection between the disappearance of many Native Americans and the change in the ecological landscape of America?

LaDUKE: In North America, one of the best ways to tell that story is to look at the history of the buffalo. Indinoway mugana tuk, indinoway mugana tuk, relatives is how they're called. All our teachings, you know, as indigenous people, are about respecting these older brothers and older sisters as those who were here before us, and teach us how to live. So, 150 years ago you had 50 million buffalo in the Great Plains. And it's said that the buffalo themselves is part of what helped keep the prairie so biologically diverse as it was. The American government could not, could not defeat the indigenous people of that region. So America built a military policy on killing buffalo. And in the 1880s, 1890 period, that was the end of the buffalo herds, as 50 million animals were totally decimated on the Great Plains. And from there, America built an agriculture policy on America's military policy. So today, you go out there on the prairie and you see, you know, all these ecological problems, and you see an equal amount, quite honestly, of social and demographic problems.

CURWOOD: So, when the U.S. government decided to kill the buffaloes, to kill the Indians, they killed the prairie. And within 50 years we had a dust bowl, and we still have an ecological desert. Is that the lesson?

LaDUKE: Yeah. That's it. That's the issue, I think, is, like, one of the most important issues in the Indian country right now. And I think it's symbolic, because it's a question that I would ask is, you know, in the new millennium, does America need to keep shooting buffalo? You know, haven't we learned? Isn't it time to quit shooting buffalo?

CURWOOD: Winona LaDuke's new book is called All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life. Thanks for joining us.

LaDUKE: Migwich.

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Eskimos in Russia

CURWOOD: There's a Russian-speaking enclave outside of Homer, Alaska, that reminds us that traditional peoples on both sides of the Bering Sea are closely-related. Native folk traveled back and forth for thousands of years and shared a culture based on marine mammal hunting. But during the Soviet era, such hunting was discouraged, and whole Siberian communities were relocated to state-run reindeer and fur farms to obtain their basic needs. The old ways were forgotten, but not completely lost. Today, the people of Russia's Chukotka Peninsula are resuming their ties with their past, through relatives and friends in Alaska. Jody Seitz reports.

(Singing)

SEITZ: In a work room at the cultural center here in Barrow, Alaska, a dozen Inupiat women sit around a large plastic tarp covered in seal skins, stitching the covering for a new whaling oat.

WOMAN: When you're olukutukking the sinew, make sure you go downward, okay?

SEITZ: Revenue from the largest oil field in North America makes the Inupiut [phonetic spelling] people of Barrow rich, compared to their Russian neighbors. But people here still prefer to use traditional skin boats to hunt the bowhead whale. A delegation of Eskimos visiting from Russia have stopped by the center to watch the women work. On the Chukotka Peninsula, where they come from, living conditions are cruel. Food is scarce. Whole villages go without heat or electricity for months. Sometimes the oil from whales and seals is burned for light. In these rough times, skin boats are very practical, says Ludmilla Ainana. She's working to revive subsistence practices in her region of Chukotka.

AINANA: [Speaks in Russian]

TRANSLATOR: It's very difficult to buy a whale boat, or motor boat, aluminum boat for the people in Chukotka. That's why people come back to their traditional boats, like a skin boat. It's easy to find the wood for the frame, and then the skin to cover the boat with the hide. Boar's hide.

SEITZ: Sharing the art of building skin boats is one of many ways Alaskans have been helping Chukotkans get through rough economic times. It all began about ten years ago, when some Alaskan officials and scientists visited Chukotka. Tom Albert heads the North Slope Borough Wildlife Department.

ALBERT: So we pretty soon found out we had a common interest in marine mammals, and they had a desperate need for assistance. So we worked out a program over the years now, whereby we provide them with some funding to pay salaries, and some humanitarian aid like outboard motors. And they in turn provide us with basic information about animals that live there.

SEITZ: The data from the Chukotka coast helps the borough get a better count of the bowhead whales, which is important for managing the traditional hunt by Alaskan natives. But before they could begin counting the whales, Tom Albert says, the Chukotkans needed more basic help.

ALBERT: And it soon dawned on us that these organizations had very, very little, other than a few members. They had no office, they had no typewriters, then had no fax machine, no phone, no secretary, no pencils, no pens, no staplers, no nothing.

SEITZ: The Borough bought them an office and equipment and taught them how to write proposals and reports and keep their finances straight. Now the Chukotkans record their harvests and wildlife sightings for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Park Service.

MAN: Susan, we'll need your help here.

SEITZ: At the Borough’s offices just a few yards from the Arctic Ocean, the Chukotka delegation works on a National Park Service mapping project.

MAN: So what did we decide for puffin?

MAN 2: For puffin.

MAN: And gilmond?

MAN 2: Puffin, they give one icon.

MAN: Which icons did we decide on? That is the swan, so that's out of the question.

SEITZ: The maps show wildlife concentrations, important cultural sites, and the coastal migrations of bowhead whales.

(Voices speak in Russian)

SEITZ: In exchange for their data, the delegation receives hunting supplies for people back home. The most important thing, says Igor Zegrebin of the Russian town of Provideniya, is that the aid goes directly to the people.

ZEGREBIN: People receive personally his outboard motor, his net, his darting gun, his clothes, his own. With all he has just now, he can go to the beach and catch fish, provide food for the family or sell this fish to anybody in the town, and to receive some cash. With outboard motor and with boat, they can go hunting, provide food to their families, and they become independent people.

SEITZ: Even with the training and hunting supplies, it's been another cold, dark, hungry winter on the Chukotka peninsula. The Provideniya mayor wrote the Borough this spring, pleading for an emergency shipment of food, clothing, and medical supplies. The Borough mayor says he's putting together an aid package, and looking for help from other organizations.

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SEITZ: In Barrow, I'm Jody Seitz.

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Natural Jazz

CURWOOD: The sounds of nature are usually buried in the noise of modern life. But musician David Rothenberg says people need to pay attention to those natural sounds. And he's found a way to work them into his passion, jazz. Karen Kelly of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium reports.

(Bird calls)

KELLY: David Rothenberg is playing a recording of crows on his stereo. As he listens, he rummages through a pile of wind instruments on a bookshelf. His home office in Cold Spring, New York, doubles as a music studio. Finally, he chooses a plastic, U-shaped pipe.

(Pipe plays)

KELLY: It's a cellyaflota, a Norwegian flute. Rothenberg cups one hand over a hole in the end and blows into the top.

(Pipe continues)

ROTHENBERG: In jazz, you're often improvising upon chord changes, the form of the song and the harmony. But you can also improvise according to sound changes. There's a certain living organic kind of quality that you can find in natural sounds, and that's why I've been working on performances where natural sounds are played as an instrument to make something that seems to live.

(Music mixes with natural sounds)

KELLY: In a piece called "Tooth Walking," Rothenberg plays clarinet over the sound of walruses clacking their teeth on rocks. A friend of his collected the sound on a trip to the Alaska Sea.

(Music continues)

ROTHENBERG: I liked the shape of what he had put together, that it really had a kind of form. I love the vision of walruses sort of propelling themselves on their teeth. They sort of stick them on the rocks and pull themselves up and bang the teeth against each other.

KELLY: Rothenberg has played with the sounds of screaming seals. He's played with buzzing rainforests and beluga whales. But he's not interested in creating your typical nature CD.

ROTHENBERG: You know, there's a whole world of just, you know, standard calm pieces of music with loons or wolves and stuff. Or the ocean just mixed in, you know. People buy a lot of these. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that, except I think that's just a place to begin. It's sort of too easy, to mix the old kind of music with the standard environmental sounds. To make music that really responds to those sounds is much more difficult and harder to figure out, and will be unfamiliar and strange and less popular. And hopefully, if it's of any value, will teach you something new.

KELLY: Rothenberg's daytime gig is at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He's a professor who lectures on philosophy and the environment. And while he enjoys teaching, he finds his music does something his teaching can't. It reaches people on a deeper level.

(Flute music)

KELLY: In this piece, Rothenberg plays the flute over the crackling of a melting iceberg.

(Flute and crackling)

KELLY: You hear the sound of global warming, you'll remember it. In newspaper articles, there are many of them, every week there's some new bit of terrible news released., And I think people become numb to that. You can become numb to a lot of things, but sound, I think, is something that people should open up to. And then, you know, we won't be able to have this same kind of separation that enables us to destroy the environment so much.

(Music and crackling continue)

KELLY: Rothenberg doesn't consider himself an activist. He just wants to help people to get back in touch with the natural world. Evan Eisenberg, author of The Ecology of Eden, says Rothenberg delivers a message that isn't present in most nature CDs.

EISENBERG: For him, nature is something much more ambiguous and not always so pretty. So I think his music reflects that.

(Oboe and bird calls)

KELLY: These days Rothenberg is working on a new CD, called Before the War. It'll be out this summer on the Earthear label. He also performs live, improvising with natural sounds recorded by colleagues in the field. Rothenberg says he's not sure people will even like his music. But he hopes it will convince them to start listening.

(Music continues)

KELLY: For Living on Earth, I'm Karen Kelly in Cold Spring, New York.

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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week: Many pressing environmental hazards haunt our inner cities, but the people who live there don't always have a voice in the mainstream environmental movement. Author William Shutkin has a solution that he calls civic environmentalism.

SHUTKIN: Civic environmentalism is, in a sense, the turn toward a more democratic form of environmentalism, where communities from the local level on up are re-engaging in the process of making decisions, of rolling out programs that fundamentally affect the quality of their lives.

CURWOOD: William Shutkin and his new book The Land That Could Be, next week on Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Stephanie Pindyck, and Maggie Villiger, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Christina Russo. Alison Dean composed the theme. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is science editor. And Peter Thomson is special projects editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

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